This Saturday will witness the next step in Anthony Joshua’s incredible boxing journey.
The Principality Stadium in Cardiff provides the stage as the 2012 Olympic Champion bids to add Joseph Parker’s WBO belt to the IBF and WBA heavyweight crowns he already holds. WBC champion Deontay Wilder surely waits in the wings for the victor.
John Dennen of Boxing News has followed Joshua throughout this journey, from first fights in gritty north London pubs, through amateur triumphs in far-flung places, right up to the present, a journey documented in his book Joshua – The Unauthorised Biography, now available in paperback courtesy of Yellow Jersey Press.
It’s an engaging no-holds barred insight into the boxing world – sweet science, dark arts, the lot.
Jon Batham caught up with the author ahead of Saturday’s action. Here’s what he had to say.
Q: What is it about Joshua that first inspired you to write the book?
JD: For someone to go from a pair of borrowed boxing boots to winning a world heavyweight championship is the ultimate boxing story. At Boxing News I’d followed his career closely, right from his early amateur bouts, so could chart his progress and write about boxing more generally too, from proper amateur boxing to Olympic boxing and the professional side.
Q: The book gives the impression you have built a good rapport with Joshua and his team. Did that make the book easy or easier to write? Was there plenty of co-operation from the man himself?
JD: It’s easier when you like someone and admire what they’re doing. The book is unofficial so it’s unauthorised but came from all the reporting I’d been doing for years. I started at Boxing News as an editorial assistant and was covering random amateur shows in small, gritty venues in London just at the time Joshua was emerging on the scene. I went from watching him in a school gym in Dagenham to being ringside for his first amateur World championships. Then he went on to do great things. I was lucky to have been there, and fortunately I’d kept all my notes so had all this great material.
Q: When we are in on the beginning of someone’s career whatever the sport, we like to think we might be on the scent of something big. You seemed to suppress that for as long as possible. I guess Baku 2011 was the lightbulb moment or at least one of them?
JD: Well, it was almost too good to be true to think you’re there right at the start of something big. Joshua and his coaches knew they were onto something special. But there’s still a big difference in level between England’s national amateur championships and elite international boxing, especially at super-heavyweight. Then out in Azerbaijan he beat the reigning Olympic champion and went toe-to-toe with the local super-heavy in a great final. Joshua wasn’t as slick, certainly wasn’t as experienced as he’d become, but I thought he’d proven he had what it took to go all the way. So, I was converted into a believer.
Q: How big a threat is Parker?
JD: He’s a credible heavyweight, with good wins and brings the WBO title to the table, so he’s a worthy opponent. And at heavyweight with big punches flying in, anything can happen. But he’s not as big a puncher as Deontay Wilder or indeed Joshua. Parker’s hands are quick, but Joshua’s are too. Parker’s tough, but leaves more openings than Anthony, so I reckon Joshua will figure him out and eventually take him out.
Q: Assuming he wins on Saturday is a clash with Wilder inevitable and if so how soon might we expect it.
JD: They’re on a collision course. The world’s going to want to see it. Assuming he beats Parker, Joshua’s then going to want the fourth and final world title he doesn’t have, Wilder’s WBC belt, and two big personalities like that deciding the undisputed heavyweight champion, it doesn’t get much bigger. The two camps will have a lot to thrash out in negotiations though, so it could be one or two fights away. But when it happens, it’ll be huge.
Q: The book makes no attempt to hide the brutality of boxing and your relating of your own experiences in the ring added to this picture. Given the recent death of Scott Westgarth how easy is it to write on boxing? Do you still go along with Dr Loosemore’s comments recorded in the book that benefits outweigh and justify risks?
A tragedy like that in boxing is terrible and I have so much sympathy for everyone involved. Everyone who loves boxing cares about boxers’ wellbeing. No one wants to see people they admire get hurt. It does make you mindful of the dark side of the sport. Boxing has its benefits and I think people are allowed to choose the risks they run, to a reasonable degree. But it’s important to ask the big questions about boxing. It’s a contact sport, there’s that element of violence but it should and can be managed.
There’s a lot to worry about in boxing and it’s getting easier to be pessimistic. But there’s something special about it still. I see it in amateur boxing a lot, these clubs and these coaches make a real difference to young peoples’ lives, often in areas where there isn’t anything else like that.
Q: Boxing News has won the Special Sports Edition at the SJA Sports Awards two years running and you have been nominated previously in an individual category. How much impact does that have on the magazine and you personally?
JD: It’s tremendous to get that kind of recognition. We’re a small team working on a weekly magazine, a big website and producing those special editions as well. They look great, thanks to Nick Bond the designer and to win is a huge accolade for everyone who worked on them and what Matt Christie the editor is doing at the magazine.